A Cryptographic Solution for Patient Privacy in Electronic Health Records

This posts are part of a series of official blog posts I am doing for the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing. You will find them cross-posted here.

As someone who has a close family member in and out of hospitals, patient privacy is a significant interest. Melissa Chase (link goes to her awesome CV) presented about her research at Microsoft about cryptographic solutions in this field.

Below is the 15 second summary.

The benefits of digitized patient records are:

  1. Easier communication
  2. Increased accuracy, growing from that easier communication
  3. Lowers costs because of increased accuracy and easier communication

Now for the costs:

  1. 100,000 digital records are easier to steal than 100,000 paper records
  2. Large electronic systems are much more open to abuse by hackers, unscrupulous doctors, disgruntled employees (such as in this case, which is not what it seems)
  3. Easier medical identity theft*

Major take-way:

Patients should have full access to their records, and control over privacy should not be all (every doctor gets every patient’s records) or nothing (no digitization).

Valerie’s post has a good summary of the technical magic involved! This presentation went from 0-100 pretty fast, but her consistent use of clip-art characters (“Dr Alice”, “Charlie” etc) made it easier to keep up. Most of the presenters I have seen need to remember: Low, Slow and Loud. Lots of fast talking to finish in time.

*Medical identity theft is where thieves get medical care they cannot afford, or access to medication and equipment for the purpose of reselling it.

Inspirational Quote:

The desert is a natural extension of the inner silence of the body. If humanity’s language, technology, and buildings are an extension of its constructive faculties, the desert alone is an extension of its capacity for absence, the ideal schema of humanity’s disappearance.
–Jean Baudrillard

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